Stories + Views
Passion – that’s all it takes to teach, apparently
There’s no need for proper training to become a teacher, implies Michael Gove and backed up by the head of a highly-selective independent school. All that’s needed is passion – charismatic tutors holding court in classrooms full of bright-eyed pupils eager to receive the flame of knowledge. So every day, lesson after lesson, week after week, term after term, children will be carried on waves of passion: passion in English; passion in Maths; passion in history, geography and RE; passion in French (“Oui, je t’aime…”); passion in Science (“Sir, Miss Bunsen-Burner has blown up the lab again!”); passion in sex education (perhaps not)…
Enough! Passion is a powerful tool but needs to be used sparingly or it loses its effect. Too much can be too intense. Too much leads to over-stimulation, exhaustion and teacher burn-out. And it’s hard to keep passion alive on a wet Friday afternoon at the end of term.
Yes, teachers should be inspirational but effective teaching is more than lighting the fire. It takes extended effort in pumping the bellows.
Passion alone is not enough. Teachers need a range of strategies to use when appropriate and that’s why teachers need proper training. Teaching isn’t just a craft which can be picked up by watching Miss Jean Brodie (a warning, if one is needed, of the dangers posed by a charismatic teacher).
Sixth-form college Maths teacher, Jonny Griffiths, writing in TES, tells the story of maths genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. His teaching of highly-gifted students was inspirational but those who struggled with maths and were meeting concepts for the first time found his improvisatory approach unsatisfactory. Griffiths calls this passion, “surprise” and concludes, “I do believe in surprise, but my responsibility as a teacher is to manage it a little.”
In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the young King inspires his followers with a passionate speech at the siege of Harfleur, “Cry God for Harry, England and St George!” Later, he makes a second speech before the Battle of Agincourt. The tone is sober, reflective: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother”. Henry knew which strategy was required and when.
And so it is with teaching, as it is with nursing, in hospitals and general practice, in lawyers’ offices and in Court. Subject knowledge plus a thorough grounding in methodology plus judgement to decide which method is most appropriate – that is what parents and children have a right to expect. That’s what is expected in Finland, a country whose teacher training Mr Gove says he admires. Passion alone is not enough.